Newest telescope on Mauna Kea under construction
By Peter Sur
MAUNA KEA — Following years of delays, a new telescope was lowered in pieces into its new home on the summit of Mauna Kea yesterday.
Hoku Kea, the research telescope that will be operated by the University of Hawaii-Hilo, was taken to the summit last week, but high winds and a balky dome enclosure prevented installation until yesterday. Work continues today, and testing will continue for another month.
The telescope is being built on the site of Mauna Kea's first permanent observatory, UH-Hilo's 42-year-old, now dismantled 24-inch telescope. The new observatory has a silver-coated primary mirror 36 inches across, but the new enclosure is only slightly taller than the old one.
When complete, Hoku Kea will work mostly in the visible light spectrum, although the recent grant of a $100,000 infrared imager from the Japanese space agency will expand its capabilities into the infrared, said observatory director David James. It will be primarily used by UH-Hilo's Department of Physics and Astronomy's undergraduate program.
The $45,000 main imaging system has not arrived yet; it has a 4 megapixel digital sensor that is about the size of a postage stamp. The field of view is fairly wide for a Mauna Kea observatory, about half the size of a full moon. To get the best images, the sensor will be chilled to about minus 94 degrees Farenheit.
Installation began at about 9 a.m. yesterday, when the telescope began emerging from its packing crate. By 12:30 p.m., the assembly crew used a crane to pick the telescope's bright yellow optical tube assembly off a flatbed truck and place it on a wooden crate on the outside of the observatory. The temperature was in the low 50s, with a brilliant blue sky and only a few cirrus clouds.
Principal investigator Bill Heacox was on site, documenting the first lift with a digital camera. How happy was he, after years of waiting? "Disbelieving," he said. He picked up a piece of foam packaging from the ground.
"One of the conditions of our permit. No trash," Heacox said. A Mauna Kea ranger was present to observe the work.
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